18 September 2013

Strategy, Ideology and the Close of the Syrian Crisis

September 17, 2013 
By George Friedman

It is said that when famed Austrian diplomat Klemens von Metternich heard of the death of the Turkish ambassador, he said, "I wonder what he meant by that?" True or not, serious or a joke, it points out a problem of diplomacy. In searching for the meaning behind every gesture, diplomats start to regard every action merely as a gesture. In the past month, the president of the United States treated the act of bombing Syria as a gesture intended to convey meaning rather than as a military action intended to achieve some specific end. This is the key to understanding the tale that unfolded over the past month.

When President Barack Obama threatened military action in retaliation for what he claimed was the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, he intended a limited strike that would not destroy the weapons. Destroying them all from the air would require widespread air attacks over an extensive period of time, and would risk releasing the chemicals into the atmosphere. The action also was not intended to destroy Syrian President Bashar al Assad's regime. That, too, would be difficult to do from the air, and would risk creating a power vacuum that the United States was unwilling to manage. Instead, the intention was to signal to the Syrian government that the United States was displeased.

The threat of war is useful only when the threat is real and significant. This threat, however, was intended to be insignificant. Something would be destroyed, but it would not be the chemical weapons or the regime. As a gesture, therefore, what it signaled was not that it was dangerous to incur American displeasure, but rather that American displeasure did not carry significant consequences. The United States is enormously powerful militarily and its threats to make war ought to be daunting, but instead, the president chose to frame the threat such that it would be safe to disregard it.

Avoiding Military Action

In fairness, it was clear at the beginning that Obama did not wish to take military action against Syria. Two weeks ago I wrote that this was "a comedy in three parts: the reluctant warrior turning into the raging general and finding his followers drifting away, becoming the reluctant warrior again." Last week in Geneva, the reluctant warrior re-appeared, put aside his weapons and promised not to attack Syria.

When he took office, Obama did not want to engage in any war. His goal was to raise the threshold for military action much higher than it had been since the end of the Cold War, when Desert Storm, Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq and other lesser interventions formed an ongoing pattern in U.S. foreign policy. Whatever the justifications for any of these, Obama saw the United States as being overextended by the tempo of war. He intended to disengage from war and to play a lesser role in general in managing the international system. At most, he intended to be part of the coalition of nations, not the leader and certainly not the lone actor. 

He clearly regarded Syria as not meeting the newly raised standard. It was embroiled in a civil war, and the United States had not been successful in imposing its will in such internal conflicts. Moreover, the United States did not have a favorite in the war. Washington has a long history of hostility toward the al Assad regime. But it is also hostile to the rebels, who -- while they might have some constitutional democrats among their ranks -- have been increasingly falling under the influence of radical jihadists. The creation of a nation-state governed by such factions would re-create the threat posed by Afghanistan and leading to Sept. 11, and do so in a country that borders Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Israel and Lebanon. Unless the United States was prepared to try its hand again once again at occupation and nation-building, the choice for Washington had to be "none of the above."

Why India cannot grow as fast as China

September 17, 2013 

In the past two decades China grew at a breakneck speed keeping its debt low and the quality of its infrastructure high. In India, not only has economy and infrastructure deteriorated but also its public institutions.

Wars, internal strife and malaria keep nations poor until most of them eventually graduate to middle-income status. What starts then is the race to get rich, an arduous marathon that only few countries have managed to finish.

While demographic forces determine the intensity of the initial growth spurt, the winners tend to be those that build stamina along the way by paying attention to institutions, infrastructure and fiscal policies.

India and China, the two most populous nations to have ever attempted the middle-income marathon, offer striking contrasts - not in the tempo of growth, but in their endurance.

The two nations were equally poor in 1978 when China ended its economic isolation - a decade before India chose to open up its economy.

In 1993, average Chinese incomes, measured in 2005 prices and adjusted for purchasing power differences of currencies, rose above $2,000.

That's the minimum threshold for a middle-income country, according to a March 2013 study by International Monetary Fund economists.

Yet after a two-decade-long slog, China is only two-thirds of the way towards reaching the $15,000 income threshold at which a country can declare itself rich.

Coastal Security: The Indian Experience

IDSA Monograph Series No. 22

This monograph aims at understanding India's approach towards coastal security as it has evolved since Independence. It describes the kinds of threats and challenges that India's coasts have been facing, or are likely to face in future. It critically analyses the various strategies and polices that the Indian government has devised over the years as a response to these threats and challenges. It argues that the implementation of these measures has led to the establishment of a well-defined coastal security architecture. However, the formulation of these measures without first preparing the ground for their effective implementation has revealed a number of inadequacies in the architecture. These have hampered its smooth and effective functioning.

About the Author

Dr Pushpita Das is an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) and a member of the Internal Security Centre. Her areas of interest include Border Management, Coastal Security, and India’s Northeast. She has also been co-opted as an expert on coastal security by the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS). She has written extensively on her areas of research and has delivered lectures at a number of training institutes. She holds a Doctorate degree from the Jawahalal Nehru University.

Pak Charade on Terrorism Stands Exposed

After weeks of delays and dithering, hemming and hawing, and some political bargaining, point scoring and grand-standing, the newly elected PMLN government in Pakistan finally managed to hold the much touted All Parties Conference to evolve a consensus on the counter-terrorism policy of the Pakistani state. The APC was never going to be the magic bullet that would find a lasting solution to Pakistan’s tryst with terrorism. But at the very least, it was expected to make a show of national resolve against terrorism even as it endorsed the government’s efforts and attempts to restore peace in the country through negotiations and dialogue. The resolution passed by the APC, however, is a document dripping with and reeking of irresoluteness. For all practical purposes, the only consensus that emerged after the confabulations of the civil and military leadership of Pakistan was to capitulate before the Taliban, and all that now remains to be decided are the modalities of going about this.1

Not surprisingly, there has been trenchant criticism of the APC resolution by many Pakistani analysts and observers. For one, the very idea of holding an APC when there is a parliament in place to debate issues of vital national importance has been called into question, more so because ostensibly only parties with representation in parliament were invited for the APC.2 Apart from procedural and protocol issues, there are other more substantial points on which the APC has been pilloried. For instance, despite all the verbiage in the resolution that was passed, there is no clear roadmap on how negotiations will be conducted, with whom, on what basis and under what framework, what will be the plan ‘B’ if the dialogue fails etc. In other words, none of the nuts and bolts of an anti-terror policy that are critical for determining the pace, direction, and terms and conditions of the negotiation process have been clearly specified. It is almost as though the authorities will decide things as they go along, or if you will, muddle along.

While the Pakistani politicians have been rather unrestrained in hitting out against the US, not just on the issue of drone attacks but also in making clear that in fighting the war Pakistan “will not be guided by the USA or any other country...”, when it comes to even mentioning the Taliban or the T-word (terrorism) all the determination displayed in standing up to the US (arguably Pakistan’s largest benefactor) seems to suddenly disappear. This of course is something that has been in the making for quite some months and, if anything, the pusillanimity of the Pakistani political class has only increased. Earlier this year, the the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam - Fazl-ur-Rehman Group (JUI-F) held an APC where the luminaries referred to the depredations of the Taliban as ‘lawlessness’ because use of the word ‘terrorism’ would offend the Taliban. The JUI-F APC also called for ‘engaging all concerned parties’, thereby conceding legitimacy to the Taliban by making them a concerned party instead of a combatant. The PMLN has gone a step further by using the term ‘stakeholders’ which is tantamount to placing the Taliban on an even higher pedestal.

Tackling Tribal Insurgency in Central India: From Verrier Elwin to Vijay Kumar

Paper No. 5562 Dated 17-Sept-2013
Guest Column by K. S. Subramanian

It was disappointing to read the interview (Tehelka, Volume 10, Issue 33) reflecting the views of Mr K Vijay Kumar, former Director General of Police, CRPF, currently advisor in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), on tribal insurgency.

His law and order approach reveals the bankruptcy of the government’s approach in tackling tribal insurgency, which is clearly an outcome of a flawed tribal development process, which has persisted in India since the departure of Verrier Elwin, tribal advisor to Jawaharlal Nehru (1950s to mid-1960s). 

Elwin, a dedicated social worker committed to tribal justice in India, became an Indian citizen and worked for many years among the tribal communities in central and north-eastern India. Unusually for a foreigner, he best understood and helped develop independent India’s policies on tribal change. His approach, sensitively delineated in his autobiography, ‘The Tribal World of Verrier Elwin’ (OUP, 1964), was accepted and followed by Nehru. Vijay Kumar, a bureaucrat and policeman has understandably not examined Verrier Elwin’s majestic output.

Elwin emphasized attitudes and methods in tribal change rather than programmes. He pointed out the need for caution and the danger of overwhelming the tribal people with too many schemes and creating an inferiority complex and anxiety among them about their lands and forests with the influx of too many outsiders into their villages. Nehru accepted Elwin’s formula of developing the tribal people along the lines of their own tradition and genius and rejected ‘reckless’ talk of ‘uplifting and civilising’ the tribes’. Important in this connection are Elwin’s book ‘A Philosophy for NEFA’ and two other works, the Report of the Committee on Multipurpose Tribal Blocks and the Dhebar Commission Report of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes summarized in ‘A New Deal for Tribal India’. Appropriate institutional mechanisms for tribal development were set up in the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, which remained for years the nodal ministry for Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) development and protection. After Nehru Elwin’s approach was abandoned and reckless development took over. Vijay Kumar may benefit by reading these and other reports by the Ministry’s Research and Policy (R&P) Division of the MHA delineating the linkages between violence and development. However, in the 1990s, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes Divisions in the Ministry were thoughtlessly transferred to other ministries and the R&P Division wound up. 

In 2006, the Planning Commission produced an impressive 18-member Experts Group report on ‘Development Challenges in Extremist-affected Areas’, which contradicted cogently the view of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), ‘attached office’ of the MHA, that Maoist violence was ‘the biggest internal security threat’ to India and suggested an appropriate development strategy for the tribal people. The report was mindlessly side-lined in favour of the law and order view of the IB. Being a police officer, Vijay Kumar’s unthinking approach as revealed in his interview to Tehelka will spell disaster for the tribal people of India. 

He must, in the light of the Planning Commission report, convene a meeting of informed experts to make a careful assessment of the challenges he faces instead of mechanically repeating a paramilitary approach from his past. The Planning Commission report states: ‘the methods chosen by the government to deal with the Maoist phenomenon have increased people’s distrust of the police… Protest against police harassment is itself a major cause of unrest frequently leading to further violence by the police in the areas under Maoist influence. The response of the Maoists has been to target the police and subject them to violence, which in effect triggers the second round of the spiral. The rights and entitlements of the people which give rise to the Maoist movement find expression in the Constitution, the laws enacted and the policy declarations. The administration should not have waited for the Maoist movement to remind it of its obligations towards the people. The weaker sections do not have much faith in the police and do not feel that justice will be done to them against the powerful. Often it is as frustrating experience to go to the police station as a complainant as it is fraught with danger to go there as a suspect. One of the attractions of Maoist movements is that it does provide protection to the weak against the powerful and takes security of and justice for the weak and the socially marginalised seriously. These comments call for reflection on the part of Mr Vijay Kumar. 

‘Afghan Good Enough’ May Be the Best We Can Hope for in Afghanistan

by Jacob Siegel Sep 16, 2013 

It’s the military phrase for limiting our objectives to what is achievable—and with the troop withdrawal looming in 2014, ‘Afghan good enough’ may have to do, says Afghanistan veteran Jacob Siegel. For 12 years the United States has waged war in Afghanistan, pursuing a shifting set of objectives as public interest came and went. Now, facing the full withdrawal of military forces by the end of 2014, time is running out to make what we can of the country we’ve occupied for more than a decade.

Afghan Local Police (ALP) march during a graduation ceremony at a police training center on the outskirts of Jalalabad on July 4, 2013.

While the nation has avoided an accounting, the Afghan campaign has expanded over the course of years and successive American administrations into one of the largest state-building programs in the history of the world. We have sent a second, parallel army made up of State Department and other personnel to develop social institutions and a rudimentary civil society through massive economic and agricultural projects, and a third army of contractors to support the first two.

Despite our efforts, it’s not clear that there will be any civil society in Afghanistan after we withdraw or, despite the blood and treasure we’ve spent, that Americans see the country as much more than an allegory about our elected leaders and ourselves.

The way we leave Afghanistan matters. It affects the power balance and politics of the whole region. It also informs the precedent for how we view the purposes and limits of our nation’s military. We don’t want to leave it in a condition that invites our return. And how we exit matters, not least of all, to the soldiers we are still sending to fight there, to our Afghan allies who have partnered with us in good faith, and to the citizens of that country who have known nothing but war and want to know peace.

“Afghan good enough” is the military phrase for limiting our objectives to what is achievable and not overreaching. Given the country’s violent history and its present condition less as a nation-state than a patchwork of tribal groups, Afghan good enough has become, for many within the military, the best that we can hope for. Facing short timelines and intractable obstacles, the military has slowly weaned itself off the gung-ho ideals it originally held and defined its expectations down.

When an Afghan official is found to be corrupt and fleecing his constituents, the answer is not to arrest or fire him—there’s no faith in the justice system, and who knows whether his replacement wouldn’t be worse—but to encourage him to steal less and practice a more honest graft. When Afghan police units refuse to pursue the insurgent forces that operate in their area but at least man their checkpoints, that too is considered Afghan good enough.

It’s hard to achieve a recognizable victory in a war whose aims keep being redefined.

Alongside the state-building, there has been a shift in strategy away from hunting al Qaeda and fighting the Taliban to developing Afghan forces capable of taking over after we leave, fighting where necessary, and maintaining the fragile peace where it now exists.

Few U.S. units still conduct operations on their own; they either are partnered with the Afghan military or have pulled back even further from the battle into a mentoring and advisory role. Even special operations forces, long the go-to units for nonpartnered raids and other lethal operations, increasingly devote less manpower and time to hunting insurgents and more to training Afghans.

Afghanistan: Remembering the War We are Still Fighting

Sep 16, 2013

As Americans have been debating Syria, and amid almost endless polls about war fatigue and US reluctance to engage in military action, we continue to fight a war in Afghanistan. That war has continued to kill and wound American soldiers at a time when a July 2013 ABC poll finds 67% of Americans feel the war was not worth fighting and split sharply on whether we should continue to fight in Afghanistan – with 43% opposed and 53% in favor – of a continued American presence in the war. 

A War Without Transparency, Coherent Plans, Meaningful Budgets, Cost Analysis, or Credible Measures of Effectiveness

The price in blood and treasure remains high. The rate of US and allied casualties has dropped sharply as NATO/ISAF has pushed Afghan forces into doing most of the fighting – with almost all US and allied combat troops to depart by the end of 2014. Nevertheless, the US casualty totals remain grim and continue to increase – even if we ignore the sacrifices of the Afghan forces and those of our allies. As of September 12th, a total of 2,136 US soldiers had died, 1,771 had been killed in action, and 19,287 had been wounded. This is roughly half the total cost in blood of the shorter but more intense fighting in Iraq.

At a time when we are debating spending hundreds of millions of dollars on Syria, the Department of Defense’s OCO budget – now dominated by the Afghan war – has dropped from a post-Iraq peak level of spending of $115.1 billion in FY2012 to $88.5 billion in FY2013. The President has requested another $85.5 billion for FY2014 – the last year in which US combat troops in Afghanistan will be present in any numbers, and he seems likely to get at least $80 billion, and probably more.

Somewhat ironically, these is no real way to know how much the war has really cost to date in terms of either the full military or civil expenditures, and even less ability to guess at what it may cost in the future. There is no official government reporting or break out of the total interagency, government-wide cost of the Afghan War alone to date.

In the military case, there has been no official attempt to estimate the future cost of medical treatment, replacing equipment, and reconfiguring and reshaping forces. In the civil case, the closest to a spending analysis has been the limited work of the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) and GAO to get top line figures without producing clearly defined totals and data that provides any clear overview of what has actually been spent in country and what it did or did not accomplish. In both cases, there has been no effort whatsoever to project the future cost to the end of calendar 2014 – much less any effort to project a total cost from 2015 onwards.

Bipartisan Profiles in Neglect, Incompetence, and/or Cowardice

This is not a partisan failure. The Bush Administration never issued any reports on the total cost of the Iraq or Afghan Wars. Aside from rhetoric, empty annual topline figures, and PowerPoint levels of summary narrative, neither Bush nor Obama have ever presented a clear plan or set of past of projected costs for the war, and no secretary of State or Secretary of Defense over this era has done any better. The Department of Defense – and two respective Inspector Generals (SIGIR and SIGAR) – have provided regular reporting on the war but never reported on plans or total costs. The GAO has called for better planning and reporting efforts, and the Congressional Research Service did attempt to cost the wars for a while. The State Department and USAID, however, have never issued a single meaningful report on the overall civil effort in either the Afghan or Iraq conflicts.

Caught in a tangled web

Daniel Markey : Wed Sep 18 2013

What the Snowden leaks say about US-Pakistan relations.

Like the WikiLeaks scandal before it, The Washington Post's revelations earlier this month about the massive US intelligence operations directed at Pakistan will cause heartburn on both sides. Yet, most of the Post's recently unveiled secrets are unremarkable. The real story here — and one that could too easily be missed by readers caught up in a few tantalising hints about operational details of US spycraft — has to do with the deep contradictions and complexities that lie at the heart of the US relationship with Pakistan.

Few readers could be surprised to hear that the US intelligence community places Pakistan — a land of nuclear weapons, terrorist networks and routine political instability — among its highest priorities. Pakistanis need no classified documents to convince them that the US is snooping and interfering in their country. With the Raymond Davis incident, drone strikes and the raid on Osama bin Laden's Abbottabad compound, this has been an open secret for years.

US agencies have good reasons to stay focused on Pakistan, even after the war in Afghanistan winds down, and even though al-Qaeda is but a shell of its pre-9/11 self. Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is growing, and the military seems particularly eager to build tactical (small, short range) warheads that are relatively harder to track and easier to steal. Leaders of homegrown terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba, the group that orchestrated the November 2008 commando-style attack on Mumbai, hide in plain sight, making a mockery of US bounties on their heads.

And although Pakistan's newly elected civilian government seems relatively serious and reform-minded, violence inside Pakistan and along the border with India has recently spiked. The economy sputters along on life-support from the IMF. As always in Pakistan, the balance of power between elected politicians and the generals who have so often ruled the country by diktat remains uncertain. Finally, Pakistan's sheer size — nearly 200 million people and growing — puts it into an entirely different category from places like Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria. Over the next two decades, Pakistan's numbers will grow by 85 million: more than the total population of present-day Iran.

Of course, we knew this before any leak of classified intelligence reports. But the Post's story also sheds light on the tangled web of US-Pakistan relations and the compromises they force on US policymakers. That story is best illustrated by the issue of extrajudicial killings.

In 2009, threatened by an insurgency that was starting to spill out of the tribal hinterlands and into more densely settled areas, Pakistan's military reluctantly went on the offensive. US officials, including then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, lauded the effort as evidence that Pakistan's leaders were finally coming to terms with the existential threat posed by the militants. Washington smartly buttressed this rhetorical support with military hardware and financial aid to help Pakistan wage its war.

Then in 2010, stories of summary executions by the Pakistani military came to light. American policymakers were aware of the public reports, apparently confirmed by secret communications intercepts. The news could have led US policymakers to curtail military assistance to Pakistan, but here Washington chose to walk a fine line: it quietly severed relationships with specific Pakistani military units deemed responsible for abuses and rationalised that choice by citing the greater good of supporting Pakistan's fight against the insurgency.

China’s Air Hub Plan

By James Parker
September 17, 2013

Less than a year ago, I was in a meeting in which a Chinese official mentioned how a variation on the concept of the old “Special Economic Zone” (SEZ)* was being considered as a model in which an inland city could boost its growth and reform its economy. As Chinese SEZs had traditionally been set up in coastal cities (with easy access to outside markets) or occasionally in border cities or other areas with good outside links (rivers for example) I asked for a more detailed explanation.

What it boiled down to, to simplify, was that “air-hubs” could be established to enable “inland SEZs.” All the usual SEZ characteristics such as special tax benefits; imported component assembly processes; and attractive foreign investment conditions would allow the area to develop rapidly, if an air transport hub could connect such an area to global markets. Areas nearby the “air-hub serviced SEZ” could benefit from supplying labor, components and materials into the special zone.

China has been through a bit of an airport building boom in recent years, as local governments saw such massive land-investment-infrastructure projects as an ideal way to counteract the economic slowdown which emerged as the global financial crisis struck the country. And why not? Once built, airports provide jobs, boost tourism and tax revenues and increase the profile of a city.

There have been varying figures for just how many new airports China is building; The Telegraph reported the figure at 70 new airports by 2015 (in this article from last summer); Bloomberg Business Week put it at 55 new airports by the end of the current five year plan (also by 2015); whilst Forbes went as high as 82 new airports by the end of the same year.

Whichever turns out to be the case, airports in China have been under pressure. In 2011, the CAA (China’s Civil Aviation Administration) announced the disturbing news that 75% of China’s airports were operating at a loss, and this is remembering the subsidized below-market or even negative interest rates that such projects have to pay. Right now, China has 183 operating airports, and a staggering 143 of those are in the red.

With the fabled elixir of airport-hub driven growth and transformation luring in at least 50 cities, there are certainly going to be a lot of losers along with the few winners. In many ways, the plans sound eerily similar to reports that numerous cities were planning to become “international financial centers.” After all, strong financial centers tend to develop naturally for reasons outside of government planning: New York, London, Singapore or Hong Kong, for example. Special Economic Zones performed so well because they were located naturally near to export routes. An “air-hub SEZ” may be the natural next step for cities or provinces which have built loss-making airports, but with high prices for air freight, and so many competing plans, this may turn out to be another case of government misdirected investment.

*- Special Economic Zones were the cornerstone of China’s “opening up” in the early 1980s, initially in Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Guangdong, but later in many other coastal cities such as Dalian, Tianjin and Shanghai. 

PLA’s drills seen as response to India’s infrastructure moves

Ananth Krishnan

Several military commands of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), including those handling the western section of the border with India and the South China Sea, have in recent days conducted a series of high-profile live-ammunition drills, according to State media reports.

The drills were held as a top official of the new PLA leadership urged the army to “boost combat preparedness” and internal discipline through a “mass line” campaign, and take place amid recent tensions along the border with India and involving maritime disputes. Over the weekend, troops of the Lanzhou Military Area Command, which holds responsibility for the Aksai Chin region and the disputed western section of the border where there has recently been a spurt in tensions over incursion incidents, conducted “an actual-troop live-ammunition drill on the [Tibetan] plateau”, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

A regiment conducted a live-ammunition drill at an altitude exceeding 4,500 metres “in a bid to temper the troop’s combat capability in high-altitude regions”.

Analysts in New Delhi often see military drills as signals or responses to India’s own moves to strengthen border infrastructure. The latest round of drills takes place after a series of reports of incursion incidents along the western section of the border.

While officials attribute the incidents to differing perceptions of the Line of Actual Control (LoAC) which sees troops on both sides routinely patrolling up to their overlapping claim lines, some Indian officials say China has in recent months stepped up patrols to strengthen its claims in certain areas. This has resulted in several stand-offs, most notably at Depsang on April 15, which took three weeks to resolve and cast a shadow on the Chinese Premier’s May visit to India.

Troops in the Xinjiang military region also last week conducted live-fire drills at night, State media reported.

Separately, a fleet of the PLA Navy last week returned after conducting a 16-day training session in the West Pacific, which took place against the backdrop of tensions with Japan over disputed East China Sea islands.

The drill involved “comprehensive offense and defense exercises, ship-helicopter coalition antisubmarine exercises, and ship-helicopter cooperative escort drills, as well as anti-terrorism and anti-piracy drills”, Xinhua reported.

The exercises take place amid calls from the new PLA leadership to boost internal discipline and preparedness.

Last week, Fan Changlong, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, told troops during an inspection in southern Guangdong to put in force a “mass line” campaign “to build a strong military and boost the PLA combat preparedness”. The campaign is aimed at tackling graft and improving discipline.

Anti-Shi’a Sectarianism Spreads to Malaysia

By Zachary Keck
September 17, 2013

The bitter sectarianism that has been engulfing the Middle East appears to be spreading to parts of Southeast Asia.

Mufti Datuk Wan Zahidi Wan Teh, a radical Islamist in Malaysia, called for cutting all ties to Iran because of its adherence to Shi’a Islam.

“Shiism could be regarded as a 'poison' that can destroy the harmony and security of the country as what is happening in some other countries, including Iran, Iraq and Pakistan,” Wan Zahidi said, BBC Monitoring reported, citing a report in the Malaysian paper, Berita Harian, one of the country’s oldest papers.

The report added that Wan Zahidi said Malaysia should emulate Morocco is severing ties with Iran, and said that “The Shiite teachings must be blocked, just as we restricted the spread of Communism in this country some time ago.”

The radical Islamist reportedly made the remarks at the Islamic Center in Kuala Lumpur over the weekend, which was holding a seminar titled “Facing the Shiite Virus.”

Wan Zahidi is known for his controversial comments and claims. Earlier this year, he made global headlines when he issued a fatwa declaring that participating in beauty pageants was forbidden (haram) for Muslim women. As a result of the fatwa, four Muslim women were forced to drop out of the Miss Malaysian contest.

Wan Zahidi’s comments and the anti-Shi’a conference seem to reflect a growing anti-Shi’a trend in Malaysia, which is over 60 percent Islamic and about 20 percent Buddhist.

Last month, a minister from the Prime Minister’s Department told reporters that Shi’a inside Malaysia were not allowed to propagate their religion.

“It is not wrong for them to practice Shia Islam, just like it isn’t wrong for Malaysian Chinese to practice Buddhism,” the minister said at a press conference. “But they can’t spread the ideology to the local Muslims, who are Sunnis.”

Reports in the Malaysian media have also said that persons in possession of Shi’a religious materials had been arrested and faced up to two years in prison along with fines.

There has always been a degree of sectarianism in Malaysian society, although this could be increasing because of increased Iranian immigration to the country as well as the growing sectarianism in the Middle East.

Recent years have seen an influx of Iranian nationals into the Southeast Asian country. According to one estimate by the Middle East Institute, more than 100,000 Iranian nationals are living in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur alone. The MEI report also noted that many Sunni Malaysians have chosen to convert to Shi’ism voluntarily. This is especially controversial among Malaysian religious authorities.

Indeed, the BBC Monitoring report quotes one participant at this weekend’s seminar as saying he had been tricked into worshipping Shi’ism for six years but had since converted back. The individual said the Iranian Revolution in 1979 had been particularly influential in convincing him to adopt the Shi’a faith.

Zachary Keck is Associate Editor of The Diplomat. You can follow him on Twitter @ZacharyKeck.

Russia’s Strategic Choices in the Asia Pacific

Paper No. 5561 Dated 17-Sept-2013
By Dr. Subhash Kapila

Russia’s Strategic Pivot to Asia Pacific as declared by President Putin in September 2012 at the APEC Meeting in Vladivostok was analysed by me in SAAG Paper no 5452 dated 08 April 2013. It was pointed out then that “Russia’s strategic pivot to Asia Pacific undoubtedly will prove a strategic game-changer both in terms of its timing and its underlying intent”.

In September 2013 a year after the declaration of Russia’s Strategic Pivot to Asia no firm indicators have surfaced in terms of Russia emerging as a game-changer in the Asia Pacific. This logically leads one to question Russia’s strategic choices in the Asia Pacific and the strategic path that Russia intends to follow in this volatile region.

Russia could not have missed the fact that ever since the events of 2008-2009 with China’s military escalation of the South China Sea conflicts with Vietnam and the Philippines and later over the East China Sea conflicts with Japan, China’s strategic image has taken a big dent.

China is no longer perceived as a responsible stakeholder in Asia Pacific peace and security. On the contrary a firm belief that is getting rooted in Asia capitals is that the ‘China Threat’ is a growing reality and the Asia Pacific would be well advised to factor this eventuality in their strategic planning.

Against this contextual backdrop the recent Joint Naval Exercises between China and Russia which for the first time involved actual operational doctrines has evoked strategic concerns in the Asia Pacific as to the directions in which Russia is moving. Even if these joint Russo-China naval exercises were America-centric, that is not a convincing factor in Asian capitals. What counts in Asian capitals that Russia through such advanced naval exercises is up-grading the combat capabilities of the Chinese Navy which is involved in military coercion and aggression against Asian countries in China’s numerous maritime sovereignty disputes in the Asia Pacific.

This goes against the grain of strategic thinking that Russia was keen to strike an independent path and postures in the Asia Pacific power-play befitting its earlier status as the strategic co-equal of the United States and its resurgence to re-acquire it.

In the field of international relations and power-play, perceptions count. Can Russia afford to let the picture go around that it is reinforcing its alliance with China which the rest of the Asia Pacific counts as the ‘China Threat’?

Russia’s strategic alignment with China is also costing it heavily in terms of its relationships with three major countries of the Asia Pacific, namely, India, Japan and Vietnam.

China is involved in long-standing territorial disputes with all these three important Asia Pacific countries which matter in the Asian security calculus. Can Russia afford to ignore that its standing is being strongly affected by its strategic alignment with China.

Russia’s foreign policy imperatives would suggest that in the pursuance of its Strategic Pivot to Asia Pacific, the same cannot be furthered by China alone. Russia would need to leverage its long standing strategic ties with India and Vietnam. Russia would need to resuscitate its ties with India and Vietnam which stood rusted because of Russia’s ‘China Connection’.

In the same vein, Russia has to make newer openings to Japan which gradually is shedding its pacifist cloaks and is moving towards acquiring a self-reliant independent defence capability forced by China’s aggressive stances towards Japan. Russia’s even token accommodative stances on its Northern Islands dispute with Japan could open up promising opportunities in Russo-Japan relations.

A Potemkin Syria Deal

By Harry Kazianis
September 17, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As the world takes a collective sigh of relief now that a deal has been concluded that aims to remove Syria’s chemical weapons it seems timely to ask a painfully obvious question: what was really achieved?

From where I sit in Washington the answer is clear — next to nothing, for America or the world.

To be clear, there are some positive aspects to the deal that are worth mentioning. 

The United States will hold off on attacking Syria with cruise missiles for the foreseeable future. This spares President Barack Obama a likely defeat in the U.S. Congress and the painful decision of having to attack without congressional approval. With many questioning what would have been achieved by a “pinprick” operation that would have been unable to stop future chemical attacks anyway, diplomacy seems to now be the preferred if not exclusive path. While many claim Obama could still order military action, unless Assad launches a massive chemical attack it seems the window for a military strike has passed. One potential tool for changing Assad’s strategic calculations — the possibility of military action– has been effectively taken off the table.

Moving on to the unpleasant aspects of the deal, one point is painfully clear: There is no way to know for certain if Assad hands over all of his chemical weapons, facilities to create such weapons, and delivery systems. Even the most competent and trained personnel, working in the best of conditions and not in the midst of a civil war would find destroying Syria’s large stockpiles of chemical weapons a tremendous challenge. There is always the possibility that Assad could hold back some of his weapons fearing that if rebel forces were someday close to victory he would have one possible insurance policy against an imminent collapse. Combined with the fact that destroying such weapons will likely take years even under the best conditions, the likelihood that conditions on the ground would remain stable across the various sites where accounting, removal and possibly destruction would need to be done seems very low. If Assad wanted to slow the process, attempt to hide materials, or just make a mockery of the agreement he need look no further than the recent past: the Iraq WMD inspection nightmare of the 1990s. Does anyone honestly want a repeat of such a mess?

As for the man who America blames for launching one of the worst chemical weapons attacks in recent memory, he gets to stay in power. Assad, one could argue, is strengthened by this potential deal. The United States, its allies and Russia are now locked into what could be years of negotiations to find, account for and destroy Syria’s seemingly vast chemical weapons stockpiles. Assad, knowing it would be a horrendous tactical folly to use chemical weapons again, does have the ability to strike with impunity using the full range of his conventional weapons. With the world’s gaze shifted to his chemical weapons and not the daily ups and downs of a civil war that has claimed the lives of over 100,000 people and displaced millions, Assad may have the strategic room he needs to gain an advantage on the battlefield.

The UN Chemical Weapons Report: One Third of the Story that Needs to Be Told

Sep 17, 2013

The first report of the United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic marks a courageous breakthrough on the part of the inspectors, but it also tells only part of a story that needs immediate support from U.S., British, and French intelligence. Its very title indicates the limits to its coverage: “Report on the Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons in the Ghouta Area of Damascus on 21 August 2013.”

The report follows strict protocols and can only report on firm evidence. It was carried out under a mandate not to address who was responsible. It also did not attempt to tie the assessment of the use of chemical weapons on August 21st to an assessment of the initial mission of the inspectors, which was to cover possible attacks at Khan al-Asal, Sheik Vlaqsood, and Saraqueb.

Racing the Clock Under Terrible Conditions

The report does not represent the kind sweeping, unfettered effort that could address the entire series of chemical attacks. It provides convincing evidence that Sarin was used, but the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and other inspectors did not have the ability to analyze the scale of the attack. It is only the first of what it states will be part of an ongoing investigation. The inspectors only had limited access to a limited number of locations for very limited times with no real prior ability to survey or characterize the site. They were in Moadamiya in West Ghouta on August 26th for two hours, and in Ein Tarma and Zamalka in East Ghouta on August 28th –29th for five hours during a temporary cease fire.

It is a real tribute to their efforts that they were able to interview 50 people in that time, interview them on their symptoms and what they saw, and their impressions of the conditions of the attack and the dead. They were also able to interview nine nurses and five doctors, and find that the weather was somewhat unique on August 21st in that the falling temperature in the morning condensed the vapor (gas) coming from the attack and kept it in the area and near the ground. The report indicates that all of the evidence corroborates that a non-persistent – and normally quick-dissipating – nerve agent called Sarin was used, but that it may not have been pure and may have deteriorated before use – something common during the Iraqi attacks that used Sarin during the Iran-Iraq War.

Clear Physical Evidence that Sarin Was Used

As the report makes clear, these inspections on August 26th-29th only came after the sites had been disturbed for days. The inspectors were then able to examine a limited number of 80 survivors and carry out a diagnosis of 36. They interviewed 36 living persons, Ages 7 to 68, 69% male, and 83% of whom reported being exposed after nearby attacks, and 17% of whom were exposed after responding.

They got blood samples from 34, hair from 3, and urine from 15. The blood tests in the three sites indicated 79% to 93% positive for Sarin. The urine samples (after 5 to 8 days) were 91-100% positive. The hair samples did not test positive. This evidence consistently indicated the use of Sarin – as did the interview data (which are still being assessed,) and the follow up examination of the medical records in Zamalka Hospital. It is also telling that none of the subjects had physical injuries from a cause other than the chemical agent – showing that this was a gas attack and not a conventional attack. (See Appendix 3 and Appendix 4 for broad details and Table 7.2 in pages 35-37 of Appendix 7 for detailed blood and urine test results).

The inspectors did not get to survey and examine the dead. The inspectors did not have the kind of access that allowed them to determine the number of dead and wounded, determine whether the attack left persons who were permanently injured, or assess the lethality of the chemical attacks versus reports of artillery shelling of the site with conventional weapons.

Some Useful data on Munitions and Trajectories

The data on the munitions (Appendix 5) are limited. The inspectors had little time and the sites that they went to show that much of the evidence has already been disturbed or removed. They did find one case where a rocket landed without exploding a warhead – indicating that it may have carried gas. The inspectors later went to a nearby site that had suffered a gas attack – possibly from the warhead of the rocket. They took physical data on the rocket body showing it was a 140 mm rocket some 630 mm long with inscriptions in Cyrillic, 10 jet nozzles, and a metal electric contact plate (firing mechanism) in the center.

Evidence was found at two sites indicating that the rockets fired during the attack had a long tubular warhead that could contain Sarin, and that they came from the northwest. It also seemed clear that the warhead was not explosive and had lost velocity before hitting, indicating that the dispersal of a chemical agent had slowed it before it hit. (p. 22)

Rebalancing the Maritime Pivot to Asia

September 17, 2013
By Abhijit Singh

Rumors of the pivot’s death are exaggerated. A flexible strategy could give the U.S. a sustained presence.

When it appeared, prior to the recent deal with Russia, that the U.S. might be preparing for military strikes against Syria, a chorus of voices emerged to prophesize that this latest Middle Eastern entanglement would have dire implications for the U.S. maritime pivot to Asia. Speculation was rife that Washington may have indeed already begun the process of re-drawing its commitment to East Asia.

Yet, chronic skeptics eager to write the pivot’s obituary may be premature. The rebalancing may be at a crossroads, but there appears to be some innovative thinking at work to realign the fundamentals of the strategy to help Washington achieve its broader objectives.

A New Rebalancing Strategy

The redrawing of U.S. pivot plans appears designed to help the U.S. maneuver into a favorable position in East Asia, without compromising on its efforts to meet any challenges that might arise in the Middle East. From an operational perspective, the new maritime initiatives look to be a part of a tactical counter-balancing strategy, wherein an increased maritime presence in the Mediterranean is accompanied by a temporary reduction of the pivot-related operational tempo in parts of the Eastern Pacific, where the U.S. Navy seems in a rather conciliatory mood vis-à-vis the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLA-N).

Recent developments suggest a new maritime bonhomie is blossoming between the U.S. and China. In a rare if not unprecedented development on September 6,three PLA-N ships visited Hawaii for operational exercises with the U.S. Navy. The three Chinese naval ships – Qingdao, a Luhu-class destroyer; Linyi, a Jiangkai-class frigate; and Hongzehu, a Fuqing-class fleet oiler – carried out coordinated exercises with the American guided missile cruiser, USS Lake Erie, off the Hawaii coast, signaling a growing amenability for operational interaction between the two navies.

To add to the joint-operational endeavors, Wu Shengli, Commander-in-Chief of the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy, was invited to visit the U.S.Significantly, this was only three weeks after China's new Minister of Defense Chang Wanquan toured both the Pacific Command in Hawaii and the Northern Command in Colorado. In discussions with his American counterpart, Chuck Hagel, Chang is supposed to have discussed several endeavors that the United States and China will undertake to strengthen their maritime relationship.

These interactions are not one-off events. Rather, they are of a piece with an evolving pattern of close maritime engagement between China and the U.S. Just several weeks ago, a U.S. naval ship carried out anti-piracy drills with units of the PLA-N in the Gulf of Aden. Reportedly, the USS Mason, a guided missile cruiser, teamed up with PLA-N destroyer Harbin and Chinese auxiliary replenishment oiler Weishanhu to conduct a series of evolutions of an operational nature, including combined visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) operations, live-fire drills and cross-deck landings.

While the U.S. Navy portrays the recent engagements with the PLA-N as a move towards improving strategic “trust and transparency,” aimed at avoiding any miscalculation in the Pacific, the Chinese Navy – despite a general wariness about the U.S. rebalance – has been enthusiastic in embracing the theme. Not only is the PLA-N willing to cooperate in the maritime domain, it has also indicated its keenness to attend the U.S. Navy-sponsored RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific) exercises in 2014 at Hawaii. Indeed, the geniality on display between the USN and PLA-N has surprised maritime analysts who, until a few months ago, were evaluating scenarios with the two navies in an “eyeball-to-eyeball” confrontation in the Pacific.

Russia Is Back

September 17, 2013

President Obama has accepted an exit strategy from the Syria crisis proposed by Vladimir Putin. Obama surmised that if the plan works, it might lead to a breakthrough. In his Tuesday speech to the nation last week, Obama indefinitely postponed a crucial Congressional vote on whether to strike the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. No wonder: Obama most probably would have lost that vote. By Saturday, he agreed to a deal negotiated by John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov in Geneva.

This was hardly a glorious case of presidential crisis management. Many influential Senators—including Democrats—would have opposed authorizing force. The House was clearly against the President. A majority of American voters, exhausted by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, did not support the strike, and Congressional elections are only a year away.

Obama seemed to have climbed up the proverbial tree, and it was Russian President Vladimir Putin who played a crucial role in providing him a ladder to climb down—at a price. Thus, Putin, in a typical geopolitical “judo” move, stepped closer to Obama—in order to neutralize him politically. By providing a way out for the American president from a perceived tight corner, Putin made himself appear more powerful. And the optics matter as much as substance.

In a tactically impressive move, Putin, ever eager to assert Moscow’s role in the Middle East and oppose the U.S. and her Sunni allies, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE, offered to put Syria’s chemical arsenal under UN control and then destroy it under international supervision. Damascus has joined the Chemical Weapons Convention and signaled consent to the Putin plan.

In what appears as yet another strategic blunder, Obama even elected to forego a binding UN Security Council resolution on Syrian disarmament under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which allows for enforcement, while Putin may hit the geopolitical jackpot.

If the disarmament initiative succeeds, Obama will “owe” Putin. America will be enticed to forget quickly the damage caused by the NSA and CIA defector Edward Snowden, who received asylum in Russia. America will remain mum as a Russian court has sentenced anticorruption crusader and whistleblower Alexei Navalny. Moscow is rife with rumors about preparations for the third trial of jailed oil tycoon and political opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky. It is equally unlikely that Russia’s ambitious plans to expand the Eurasian Union to include Armenia and Ukraine into the Customs Union will meet a vigorous U.S. response.

Obama may not realize that Putin, a former KGB recruiting officer, seems to have played him like a violin. Putin has demonstrated that he is capable of stopping the world’s only superpower from using force—making him “the go to” man, to whom many on the U.S. blacklist will run to seek protection.

Israel has 80 nuclear warheads, can make 115 to 190 more, report says

A satellite image of Dimona, Israel, where Israel reportedly built nuclear warheads. (Space Imaging / July 4, 2000)

By Batsheva Sobelman
September 15, 2013, 

JERUSALEM-- Israel has 80 nuclear warheads and the potential to double that number, according to a new report by U.S. experts.

In the Global Nuclear Weapons Inventories, recently published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, proliferation experts Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris write that Israel stopped production of nuclear warheads in 2004.

But the country has enough fissile material for an additional 115 to 190 warheads, according to the report, meaning it could as much as double its arsenal.

Previous estimates have been higher but the new figures agree with the 2013 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute yearbook on armament and international security. The yearbook estimated 50 of Israel's nuclear warheads were for medium-range ballistic missiles and 30 were for for bombs carried by aircraft, according to a report in the Guardian

Although widely assumed a nuclear power, Israel has never acknowledged possessing nuclear weapons or capabilities and continues to maintain its decades-old "strategic ambiguity" policy on the matter, neither confirming nor denying foreign reports on the issue. 

In 1986, Mordechai Vanunu, an Israeli nuclear technician, leaked the country's alleged nuclear secrets to a British newspaper, and said Israel had at least 100 nuclear weapons. Vanunu was later convicted of espionage and treason and was released from jail in 2004 after serving 17 years.

Israel continued to adhere to its vagueness policy after comments made by then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2006 were interpreted by many as an inadvertent confirmation that Israel had nuclear weapons. 

Following Sunday's reports, Israeli defense analyst Amir Oren wrote that the ambiguity policy has done "its duty honorably and can now retire." In the current regional conditions, Israel could benefit from giving up the vagueness, he wrote in Haaretz.

Founded in 1952, the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, is nearly as old as the state. It acknowledges two "nuclear research centers," one in central Israel, the other in the Negev desert.

The facility at Soreq is under supervision of the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose inspectors routinely ensure it is being used for research purposes only.

Earlier this year, an IAEA team inspected the facility at Israel's request for a first-ever comprehensive safety review, a concern after the nuclear accident at Fukushima, Japan, in 2011. 

The 40-year-old facility at Soreq is expected to be phased out by the end of the decade and replaced with a particle accelerator, according to Israeli media.

But the nuclear facility in Dimona, a location in Israel's southern Negev desert, is off-limits for the IAEA and not under its supervision. According to foreign reports, that is where the nuclear warheads have been produced since 1967.

Of the many multilateral agreements on nuclear issues the IAEA offers, Israel has signed a few and ratified fewer, mostly relating to nuclear safety issues. But it is not a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. In 2010, Israel dismissed a demand from the parties to join. 

(A letter from Henry Kissinger to President Nixon in 1969 describes U.S. concerns that Israel "make no visible introduction of nuclear weapons" or "undertake a nuclear test program". According to the letter, the Israeli government told the U.S. it "would not become a nuclear power.")